SIMON DOONAN of luxury department store Barneys New York remembers being a teenager in the Swinging Sixties.
“Magazines and newspapers started to cover the new style revolution — the mod revolution. I remember seeing that first picture of Twiggy that Barry Lategan took — [her] in a Fair Isle sweater — in the newspapers. You felt like something big was happening. Before that, fashion was sort of the prerogative of wealthy people. Older, patrician people. And then it shifted and it was all about youth.”
Doonan’s recollection of the excitement created by the style revolution of the ‘60s captures the radical change that the new fashion of the era represented.
Prior to then, fashion was a very serious affair, for groomed, grown-up glamazons who were immaculately coiffed in matching hats and gloves.
Young designers, Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki, with their super short minis, patent boots and simple fuss-free styling changed the entire concept of what it meant to be fashionable. Their free-spirited, irreverent, comfortable and youthful fashions made corsets and couture obsolete. To be fashionable in the ‘60s was all about looking uninhibited — as if everything has been casually thrown together spontaneously.
Quant’s declaration that “Clothes should live, move and breathe with the wearer” was a challenge to the traditional decorous standards of ’50s female dress. Cheeky, youthful insouciance replaced mature sophistication overnight and a decade of social upheaval ensued characterised by mini skirts, pop music and the pill.
In the ’60s, fashion championed fun and excitement rather than refinement and sophistication. Youthful sexiness replaced mature elegance and the sexual revolution imploded. Couture, which had dominated fashion for decades, was deposed as young, daring street fashion stole its crown. Mods (derived from modernist) were the personification of this new fashion movement — originally used to describe scooter-riding clothes conscious young men who loved Soul, Ska and R&B the term was later extended to refer to both fashionable young men and women who championed street style.
They were sharp, confident and cool and in a booming economy had disposable income to spend on their passion for fashion.
Now 50 years later, with Europe and the wider world struggling with severe recession and social unrest, it’s apt that one of the main trends for S/S 2013 is the Swinging Sixties reworked for a new generation. Maybe the appeal lies in the pure escapism that this golden decade evokes, perhaps designers have simply selected it as this year’s decade for retro re-invention or it could be a deeper desire for another social revolution but the sixties are referenced everywhere this season.
Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton utilised the LV Damier squares liberally in a graphic homage to sixties style with a parade of stylish sixties “twins” in boxy jackets, mini skirts and minimal shifts accessorised with kitten heels, bouffants and ladylike box bags.
For his own label collection shown in New York, Jacobs channelled Factory muse Edie Sedgwick in mid and maxi length skirts in monochrome stripes. Marni, Sportmax, Michael Kors and Moschino all emulated ‘60s sirens like Twiggy, Françoise Hardy and Jane Birkin with mini-skirts, A-line dresses, graphic checks and patent Mary Janes while Tom Ford drew inspiration from a more mature ‘60s muse inspired by Hitchcock heroines. Colour palettes fell strictly into two camps, multi-coloured pop brights for a fresh, bold look, or in contrast, graphic monochrome that referenced Op Art pioneer Brigit Riley.
London was the centre for the Fashion Revolution of the ‘60s, a revolution in thought, style, and behaviour that was the complete antithesis of the decade that preceded it. Designers such as Quant, (who opened Bazaar in the King’s Road) and Hulanicki (who opened Biba in Kensington) led the emergence of a youth quake in the Swinging Sixties with the mini skirt, a “scandalous” skirt length that literally stopped traffic.
Both of their small independent boutiques grew into vast retail and wholesale operations reflecting the explosion in youth culture.
Quant was the designer who spearheaded what became known as the London Look: “The Chelsea girls, the original leather-booted, black-stockinged girls who came out of the King’s Road looking like some contemporary counterpart of a gay musketeer, began to be copied by the rest of London and watched with interest by others all over the country. Soon the ‘look’ was to be copied internationally.”
Biba (the TopShop of its day) meanwhile epitomised Swinging Sixties London and was the hang out for film stars, musicians and models including Brigitte Bardot, the Rolling Stones and Twiggy. Hulanicki whose mantra was “The simpler the better, the shorter the better” was the first designer to come up with the idea of selling an entire fashion lifestyle incorporating clothes, food, interiors and beauty products all under one roof.
Both women represented the democratisation of fashion — fashion was now available to the young, by the young at affordable prices. As Quant observed: “We wanted to increase the availability of fun to everyone. We felt that expensive things were almost immoral and that the New Look was totally irrelevant to us.”
Quant’s style of straight-cut shift dresses were also shown by Paris based couturier André Courrèges. In 1964, his linear mini-dresses, futuristic tailoring and stiff uncompromising silhouettes, which used new materials such as plastic and PVC, created a dramatic impression at the traditionally staid couture shows.
He became known as the Space Age designer for the strongly futuristic look of his clothes, which he accessorised with flat white boots, goggles and helmets inspired by astronauts. Moschino’s Spring Summer 2013 show was heavily influenced by Courrège’s look replicating his abbreviated dresses, shiny wet look fabrics, Go-Go boots and egg shaped helmets.
It’s ironic to think that the women who showed these revolutionary styles in the ‘60s are now old enough to be the grandmothers of youthful style icons such as Alexa Chung and Cara Delevigne who have adopted the ‘60s look this season.
How best then to re-interpret the ‘60s successfully for today? The simplest way to channel the look is through the clever purchase of a couple of monochrome pieces — dresses and tops are probably the easiest to wear as boldly striped or patterned trousers terrify most women.
Buy a pair of the look’s kitten heels or low heeled block sling-backs paired with a box bag for a subtle injection of ‘60s chic. Pair a short simple LBD with gently back-combed hair fixed with a narrow black band, lashings of eyeliner and mascara and a pale lip and you’re there. Also don’t be afraid to search out original 1960s pieces in vintage shops and online. Last year on a visit to the costume department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I couldn’t believe items from Courrèges and Quant were over 50 years old — they still looked so fresh that they could be taken from the display and worn immediately.
Sixties style remains a design classic — it was the first expression of modern youth culture and still looks relevant today. The sheer effervescence of the look is if nothing else an inspiring antidote to recessionary gloom and a reminder that good design endures to give repeated pleasure to new generations.
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